The murder of a young girl, the arrest and railroading of her employer, and the results of mob mentality may not spring to mind as the perfect setting for a Broadway musical. In fact, though nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning two, the Lincoln Center production of Parade closed after its limited run of 84 performances at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Though Parade's life in New York ended prematurely, it was pimarily due to the financial collapse of co-producer Livent Corporation. Reviews and audience reaction were mixed - admirers called it brilliant; detractors found the subject matter too depressing to be adapted for the musical stage. Hello, Dolly it ain't, but unless you require every musical to be the theatrical equivalent of a Fizzie (remember those sweet flavored tablets which turned ordinary water into a bubbling concoction - meant to be drunk quickly before the liquid once again turned flat?), there is every reason to be grateful and honored that the collaboration of Alfred Uhry (Book), Jason Robert Brown (Music & Lyrics), Harold Prince (Director), and Patricia Birch (Choreography) is in town.
Brown's score is lush, thrilling, and poignant (and perfectly directed by the composer himself). Practically removing all need for dialog, Brown tells the story of Mary Phagan's murder and Leo Frank's condemnation with care and a roller coaster of emotions. The set is tooled to fit the Benedum's stage perfectly, never bursting the seams nor becoming lost. The pace is quick as the story moves from the shock of the murder to the disbelief of Frank's quick arrest to the frenetic rush to justice, when all the while we are witness to the deepening of the love between Leo Frank and his wife Lucille, as somehow they grow closer while he is being held in jail. All the tools of musical theatre join together to present this story with high drama and even, at times, a bit of light comedy.
The messengers of the story are members of an incredible cast. David Pittu has the bookish, meticulous look of Leo Frank. He must play this character in several states of emotion, including playing the anti-Leo in an imaginative courtroom scene. If Pittu occasionally borders on the whiny side, he otherwise masterfully portrays the weighty character of Frank. As Lucille Frank, who becomes her husband's best advocate for his defense, Andrea Burns truly delights. The vocal requirements of the role are substantial and Burns meets and at times exceeds those requirements. Her voice fills the theater and expresses all the confusion, passion, and pride the character experiences. The supporting cast does not disappoint - Ray Aranha as the unsteady Newt Lee, Randy Redd as ambitious newshound Britt Craig, Peter Samuel as prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, Keith Byron Kirk as Jim Conley, Daniel Frank Kelley as heart-broken Frankie Epps, and Kristen Bowden as sweet Mary Phagan, all turn in rich supporting performances, each earning his or her time in the spotlight.